How do we see?

That question–how do we see?–could be answered in a variety of ways. But it was triggered by a short incident in a book I read…a video I saw…and a picture I saw.

First…in a book titled Wounds Are Where Light Enters, Walter Wangerin, Jr., the author, tells of an incident that involved his adopted African-American son when he was a small child. He was good friends with a neighbor girl, but one day the girl’s mother said that they couldn’t play together any more. Wangerin and his wife thought it was because their son played rougher than his friend did–but that wasn’t the case. It was because he was black. Wangerin, the family’s pastor, went to visit and talk to the mother, who greeted him warmly and then began commiserating about how difficult life was for black children, especially boys…and that she wasn’t surprised they turned to alcohol and crime. Wangerin was nonplussed and asked if she didn’t see that her attitude was one of the things that made it so difficult for them. Why had she cut him off? Her response was simple. “No…black and white don’t marry.”

She didn’t see a little boy who only wanted to play with his friend. She didn’t see a child…she saw color.

Second…a video came up on my Facebook newsfeed about a 66-year-old man who was colorblind. He was given the gift of Enchroma glasses, which allowed him to see color for the first time in his life. It was incredible to watch him see the world in a new way…overwhelming but absolutely joyful.

Image may contain: one or more peopleAnd then third…a picture I saw tonight. I have no words to describe the heartbreak I felt when I saw the picture this little girl who lives in an orphanage drew…a picture of her mother, and then she took off her shoes, and curled up on her mother’s chest.

How do we see? What do we see?

Do we only see what’s on the outside? Or are we willing to look beyond the obvious? to see the inside?

We can put “force fields” around ourselves so that we protect ourselves…because to see the inside requires us to be vulnerable, and that can be frightening. It calls us to be advocates for change…

My faith tradition talks about enduring principles, and some of them call me to see the world differently:

  • Worth of all people
  • Pursuit of peace
  • Unity in diversity
  • Blessings of community

So, how do we see? What do we see?

Are we willing to open our eyes…to see the world in new ways? I hope so.

 

 

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What are we afraid of?

Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Why?

Because fear feeds on itself. Once we start being afraid, then we constantly find things to be afraid of…and it begins a vicious circle. We become afraid and so we insulate ourselves from those things that we fear–and then we become afraid that we haven’t protected ourselves well enough and so we pull within ourselves even more…and more…and more.

Eventually we find ourselves living in such a little world that there is no room for anything but fear. We find ourselves like Rapunzel, locked into a tower away from anything and anybody that could rescue us…no door to open…and the sad thing is that we have done it to ourselves.

What are we so afraid of?

  • The “other?” Someone who is different from us in some way (ethnicity, gender, sexual identity, religion, political, gender identity…)?
  • Anything that challenges our long-held beliefs?
  • The future?
  • Being alone?
  • Change?

So how do we get over being afraid? It’s not easy.

It’s so much simpler, at least in the short-term, to hold on to our fears. They protect us…or at least we think they do, until they imprison us.

We have to face the fears…name them. Until we do, they will continue to hide in dark corners, ready to jump out at any unexpected moment.

We have to decide whether we are going to open the door and let hope come in…let faith begin to develop. We have to begin to understand that fear often begins inside us. Yes, there are some valid reasons to be careful and cautious in our lives–but not for every aspect of living.

Pulling the weeds of fear is difficult. It’s challenging. It requires us to be willing to listen to others…to even see ourselves in them. It requires us to be vulnerable, to be willing to accept pain.

But in the long run, it’s the only way to live. When we lock ourselves in the tower of fear, we’re not living. We may be surviving, but that’s it.

When we live, we see colors…we love diversity…we choose to walk with others–perhaps to give them company, but in so doing, we find we are no longer alone.

So what will we choose? Fear? Or opening the door to love and to hope…to life?

God did it…

A number of years ago, there was a comedian (Flip Wilson) whose signature line was “The devil made me do it!” We laughed at him–sometimes ruefully–because I think many of us wished we could blame problems / bad choices on something / someone outside ourselves. For many of us, it wasn’t serious. Yes, we acknowledged that there is evil in the world, but many of us did not believe that there was a devil with horns and a pitchfork holding puppet strings on us and making us do bad things.

Fast forward to today…

Instead of “the devil made me do it” we are hearing far more often “God did it!” That statement is often in reference to our current president–that God put him in place.

Sorry, but I don’t buy that any more than I did “the devil made me do it.”

God didn’t create puppets. We are created with minds to use…to think and to make decisions ourselves. And we then face the consequences of those decisions.

Yes, God can–and does–use flawed human beings. There are plenty of stories about that in the Bible. Those names–David, Solomon, Samson, Jonah (and others)–are often held up as examples, and I believe they can be. Just not in the way many people like to use them. They were human beings who made some lousy choices. Despite those choices, when they were willing to allow God to use them, God could.

But did God put them in place? And make them make those decisions?

Nope.

No more than God is sitting somewhere “up there” looking down on us and deciding that this person should be president and that one should not. I believe that God works with us and tries to guide us into making wise choices…but not that God removes our freedom to make choices…or our living with the consequences of those choices.

“God did it…”? No. We did it (whatever “it” we are talking about)…and it would be wise of us to acknowledge our responsibility in creating the kind of world we are living in…and our responsibility for cleaning up the messes we have made.

This is my song…

I’ve had a lot to think about this last week. I attended the national convention of the American Guild of Organists in Kansas City. It was a wonderful week of music, classes, fellowship, and worship…some very powerful worship!

Since this is the 100th year since the end of World War I, many of the events of last week were connected and intertwined with that event. They were vivid reminders of the desire–and need–for peace in our world…and the difficulties we have in being peaceful.

Yes, the “great war” was 100 years ago, but so many of the feelings and events that led up to it sounded so contemporary…unfortunately. I was reminded of a line from the song that was popular during the Vietnam War–“When will we ever learn?”

Music in its many forms can challenge us. It can give us hope. It can call us to be better people…and help us focus on the better future that we all want. It can remind us that we are all children of one God–whatever name we call the Divine.

May we somehow learn to sing together these words so often set to the tune Finlandia:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
but other hearts in other lands are beating
with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation,
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
That each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting ev’ry wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

Questions…and more questions…

I have struggled with trying to figure out how to say what I want to say, because I know some of the words I use will turn people off…will convince them that my mind is already made up…will be offensive to some. But I don’t know what other words to use. So I’m just asking you to please be willing to suspend your preconceptions of who I am and what you think I’m going to say…

Over the last few days I’ve heard and seen a lot of comments attacking parents who have crossed our borders illegally…asking how they could put their children in danger…suggesting that those who have been protesting the current administration’s policies don’t care about the children in the United States who are separated from their parents who are in the military or in jail…asking where the protestors over the last few administrations were when some of these same issues were a problem.

I can’t answer all of those questions. All I can do is share what I understand.

Right now I don’t really care who started the policy. I can spend a lot of breath in the blame game—but at the end of the day, families…and vulnerable children…are still hurting. My brothers and I sometimes got into arguments and—when our parents got tired—we pointed fingers at each other. “He started it.” “No, she did.” That wasn’t important to our folks. What WAS important was this: “It doesn’t matter who started it. It’s time to stop it.”

I do know there are children who are in foster care in this country because of choices their parents made or who are separated from the families because of military obligations. I know they hurt as well, and I wonder if we can’t find a better way to help them as well.

But what probably bothers me the most are the comments questioning the parenting of fathers and mothers who have made dangerous trips to try to get to this country with their children. “How could they risk their children’s lives?” I really struggle with this. It feels like those questions are coming from a position of privilege. I don’t mean that as an attack on anyone.

Let me try to phrase it a different way.

I’m a mother in a country whose government has no real control…whose officials are steeped in corruption. I cannot trust the police—they are controlled by the local gangs. My husband did his best to support us, but there is no real work unless you are part of the gang. He refused to go along with what they wanted, and one night he was attacked and killed. I know who did it, but even if I went to the police, nothing would happen because the gang pays the police to turn their backs. I’m afraid to go to the police, because when you do, you get killed as well—and then what will happen to my children? That happened to my neighbor.

I have four children—two girls and two boys. The boys are 4 and 6. They are good boys and I want them to have a good life. But the gang is already after them. They want them to be runners. If we refuse, they will kill the boys. That is what they do to tell others not to refuse. My girls are 9 and 11. They are beautiful girls, and that scares me. I cannot let them go out on their own, because if I do, they will probably not come home. The leader of the gang is demanding that I send them to him. I know what happens to girls who are taken by the gang. They are raped…again and again. And when they are no longer “useful,” they are killed. But if I tell him “no,” they will be killed.

There is no hope for us here. I cannot stay. I have heard of men who will help us get to a safer place, to a country where we can start again. It is expensive and will take everything I have. And it is dangerous…but it cannot be any more dangerous than it is to stay here. Perhaps my children and I will die on the journey. But we will die here if we stay.

I’ve never had to live like that. I can’t imagine what it is like. But I CAN understand the fears of that mother and her hope and desire for a better future for her children.

My heart aches for them—as it also aches for ALL families and children who are separated from each other, regardless of the cause.

But finger pointing and playing the blame game doesn’t help us get any closer to a solution. We have to listen to each other, because there ARE valid concerns being expressed. So how can we resolve the issues in ways that can hopefully help bring healing to situations that are so difficult to deal with? I’m not sure what the answers are.

One thing I do know, though. We are ALL human beings, people of worth…created, I believe, by the same God I worship, in the image of God. If I can see the image of the Divine in each person, maybe…just maybe…that’s where we can start trying to find answers.

Have we lost our souls?

I grew up understanding that I should live by the Golden Rule. In modern terminology, it might be expressed this way: “Treat others like you want to be treated.” When I was older, I realized that there is a version of that in all of the world’s major religions.

I also grew up with the understanding that love is the greatest commandment of all. “Love God with all your being…love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

And this…”Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

I also grew up reading (and in choir, singing) the last part of the poem by Emma Lazarus that is engraved on the Statue of Liberty. But the entire poem is worth reading today:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

And then I look around my country today…and the religion I have claimed…and I don’t recognize either of them.

Christianity–or what claims to be Christianity by so many people–seems so far removed from what I learned as a child. And my country–a place of freedom and hope, even if / when imperfectly expressed–now seems to have turned its back on the promise engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

do recognize that there are problems that we need to deal with re: immigration. But to separate frightened children from their one source of comfort? and then issue directives to staff that they are not to physically comfort them? To tell parents who are fleeing violence and oppression that if they come into this country–whether illegally or legally seeking asylum–their children will be removed from them without them having a chance to explain what is going on (if they can even understand themselves what is happening)…and to tell them they don’t know if they will see their children again?

I used to wonder how good people could have done what many Nazis did. What happened to their consciences? Did they not have any empathy for those parents and children? How were they able to separate parents from children and then go home without a qualm to play with their own children?

I used to think that we would never be like that. But I’m afraid that I’m wrong.

My own faith tradition believes that God continues to speak to us today. When I go back to re-read some of that contemporary guidance, I am challenged and convicted.

There are subtle, yet powerful, influences in the world, some even claiming to represent Christ, that seek to divide people and nations to accomplish their destructive aims. That which seeks to harden one human heart against another by constructing walls of fear and prejudice is not of God. Be especially alert to these influences, lest they divide you or divert you from the mission to which you are called.

God, the Eternal Creator, weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering. Such conditions are not God’s will. Open your ears to hear the pleading of mothers and fathers in all nations who desperately seek a future of hope for their children. Do not turn away from them. For in their welfare resides your welfare.

I pray that we will find our souls again before it is too late…for all of us.

 

WWJD

WWJD? Remember those wristbands that were popular a few years ago with those letters on them? WWJD?

What would Jesus do?

If you wore that wristband, what did it mean to you? Was it just a nice thought? Or were you wearing it to say “I am the representative of Jesus to those I meet…and so how should I behave so that they see Jesus in me?”

Jesus wasn’t an easy person to follow! He didn’t just go along with the way things were…he challenged the status quo big time! He spent time with the marginalized…those who were considered unclean, who weren’t welcome in the “nice” settings. He wasn’t particularly concerned about keeping the letter of the law; he was more concerned about the spirit of the law being in the heart. He saw all people as being worth God’s love–and he made sure they knew it.

So…

WWJD? What would Jesus do today?

If you are his follower, what are you doing today so that people see Jesus in you? There aren’t easy answers to that question. But it’s an important question to ask.

There’s another question that I think goes along with this…If you were arrested for being a follower of Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

We’re each going to respond differently to those questions. But for those of us who claim to be followers of this guy who spent his entire life upsetting the way things were, how are we upsetting the status quo in ways that acknowledge the worth of each individual? What would Jesus do? What are we doing?